On September 25th most of the Anglican Communion commemorates the day on which Lancelot Andrewes died. Archbishop Laud expressed this very simply in his diary, "Monday, About 4 0'clock in the morning, died Lancelot Andrews, the most worthy bishop of Winchester, the great light of the Christian world." (Laud 3:126) And what a light he was in his time and still is. Those who value the catholicity of the Church and the beauty of holiness in worship, also offer a big thank you on this day as he safeguarded the Catholic heritage in the English Church in its formative years of the Reformation period under Elizabeth I.
Andrewes' began his ministry (a ministry that was to last fifty years) c.1578, a time when the Puritans were trying their hardest, especially through pamphlets and parliaments to model the English Church on the Genevan. This would have meant discarding the episcopal and apostolic ministry, the Prayer Book, downplaying the sacraments and dismantling the structure of cathedrals. However their demands were always thwarted by Queen Elizabeth. She and the Archbishop of Canterbury (Whitgift) both appointed Andrewes as one of their chaplains, and prevailed on his skills as a preacher and theologian to address many of the issues raised by Puritans in the late 16thC. So his preaching and lecturing and later on when a bishop his Visitation Articles always stressed amongst other things the observance of Prayer Book services to be taken by a properly ordained minister, the Eucharist to be celebrated reverently, infants to be baptised, the Daily Offices to be said, and spiritual counselling to be given where needed.
One cannot read Andrewes' sermons or use his prayers without being aware of the centrality of the Eucharist in his life and teaching. It had been the heart of worship in the early Church when the local bishop and people came together constantly to celebrate Christ's glorious death, and partake of His most blessed Body and Blood. That partaking fell into disuse in the mediæval church and was replaced instead by adoration of the Host at the elevation during the Canon. For Andrewes the Eucharist was the meeting place for the infinite and finite, the divine and human, heaven and earth. "The blessed mysteries ... are from above; the 'Bread that came down from Heaven,' the Blood that hath been carried 'into the holy place.' And I add, ubi Corpus, ubi sanguis Christi, ibi Christus". We here "on earth ... are never so near Him, nor He us, as then and there." Thus it is to the altar we must come for "that blessed union [which] is the highest perfection we can in this life aspire unto." Unlike his contemporary Puritans it was not the pulpit but the altar, glittering with its candles and plate, with incense wafting to God, that was the focal point for worship in Andrewes' chapel.
The reason that Andrewes placed so much importance on reverence in worship came from his conviction that when we worship God it is with our entire being, that is, both bodily and spiritually. At a time when little emphasis was placed on the old outward forms of piety Andrewes maintained, "if He hath framed that body of yours and every member of it, let Him have the honour both of head and knee, and every member else."
During those fifty years Andrewes ministry touched all walks of life. He was chaplain to reigning monarchs for forty years; constant preacher at Court especially for James I; vicar of an important London parish, St. Giles, Cripplegate; and a prebendary of St. Paul's Cathedral for fifteen years. He was also Master of Pembroke College, Cambridge for a similar period; a prebendary and then Dean of Westminster Abbey for a total of eight years; Almoner and Dean of the Royal Chapel and finally a bishop for twenty-two years. He therefore not only held influential positions but also ministered to many who held important positions of State. Yet his congregations came from all walks of life, apart from royalty, politicians and gentry, there were actors, artisans, musicians, students, common folk and clerics. Contemporaries admired his preaching and piety, and eagerly awaited the publication of his sermons. Whilst he was a prebendary of St. Pancras stall at St. Paul's he restored the ancient office of confessor. Accordingly, "especially in Lent time" he would "walk duly at certain hours, in one of the Iles of the Church, that if any came to him for spirituall advice and comfort, as some did, though not many, he might impart it to them."
So it is not surprising that for many in the seventeenth century Andrewes was considered the authority on worship, and so what he practised in his beautiful chapel, designed for Catholic worship, became their standard for the celebration of the Liturgy. As Andrewes was steeped in the teachings of the Fathers and the liturgies of both Eastern and Western churches it meant that in intention and form he followed the 1549 Prayer Book more than the 1559. His practice shaped the Scottish Prayer Book of 1637 (adopted by the American Episcopal Church in the 1789), and the reshaping of the Liturgy in the English Church in 1662. The 1662 Prayer Book, following Andrewes' practice, restored the rubrics for the manual acts at the offertory and consecration. Since then all Prayer Books compiled in various parts of the Anglican Communion are closer to the 1549 Prayer Book - a liturgy in Cranmer's eyes to be only a stop-gap, but for Andrewes it reflected the practices and beliefs of the Church for over a thousand years.
As a preacher Andrewes was highly esteemed by contemporaries and later generations. In modern times Eliot referred to Andrewes as "the first great preacher of the English Catholic Church" who always spoke as "a man who had a formed visible Church behind him, who speaks with the old authority and the new culture, whilst his sermons "rank with the finest English prose of their time, of any time." As well as teaching the Catholic faith according to the Fathers his sermons also reflected an appreciation of beauty as well as knowledge of commerce, trade, art, theatre, navigation, husbandry, science, astronomy, cosmography, fishing, nature, shipping, and even the new discoveries of the world.
But Andrewes himself would have said, as indeed he did to Sir Francis Walisingham, that his whole life and teaching were indebted to the Fathers, especially the Eastern. One has only to be reasonably familiar with the Fathers,to see how much of their teachings were preached by him. For example the Cappadocian Fathers on the Eucharist, the Trinity and Christology, Cyprian on prayer, Anselm on sin and Bernard on atonement.
There is no doubt therefore that Andrewes saw himself as standing in that long line of Christian tradition embedded in antiquity, and a part of the wonder and loveliness of creation. As Dean Church said of him: "He ... felt himself, even in private prayer, one of the great body of God's creation and God's Church. He reminded himself of it, as he did of the Object of his worship, in the profession of his faith. He acted on it in his detailed and minute intercessions." Indeed Andrewes was a man of prayer and learning whose preaching and piety was noted as far away as Venice. Each day of his life, from 4.am to noon was spent in prayer and study. It is a shame that very few Anglicans know anything about this most important divine during the Reformation period in England, or of their heritage. The period in which Andrewes lived was perhaps "the golden years" of what became known as Anglicanism.